A MOTION to ban sheesha in Bahrain based on claims that it was forbidden in Islam sparked a heated row in Northern Municipal Council yesterday.
It was brought by council vice-chairman Ahmed Al Kooheji, who argued the traditional tobacco pipe was “haram” and should be outlawed nationwide by the end of the month.
His outburst came while debating a government decision in April to lift restrictions on serving sheesha that had been in place since 2006.
“Scrapping the (2006) rules has meant the sinful practice of smoking sheesha has become more popular in Bahrain, as more places are now serving it,” he said.
“This is a country that says Islam is the source of its legislation.
“I will present rules banning sheesha in Bahrain to ensure our citizens are protected from this harmful, un-Islamic practice that is a waste of time, money and health.
“It is shameful in Bahrain we believe it is part of our culture.
“It has nothing to do with civilisation, modernity or even freedom of choice – as it causes damage to the environment and others.
“Yet instead of imposing more restrictions, anyone with a Commercial Registration (CR) can now get a sheesha café licence – unless it is in a residential area.”
Works, Municipalities Affairs and Urban Planning Minister Essam Khalaf in April overturned a ministerial decision issued in 2006, which required sheesha cafes to be a certain distance from homes, schools and mosques – and imposed closing times.
The 2006 rules enforced a distance of 200 metres between sheesha cafés and homes, schools, educational institutes, government buildings, embassies or consulates, mosques or any security, emergency or religious facilities.
They also obliged cafés to close at midnight on weekdays and 1am during weekends.
While council chairman Mohammed Buhamood agreed that smoking was haram (forbidden), he said banning it would just drive it underground.
“Many people don’t share the same belief about smoking sheesha as you and me,” he told Mr Al Kooheji. “They believe it is their right, even though many clergymen consider it to be haram.
“It is impossible to introduce a ban because there would be an uproar that would cause more harm than good, we will just create a divided community.
“We have to be sensible and this requires us to put the rights of all on an equal level.
“We should be working with the government to put more restrictions on licensing and monitoring to ensure there are no grave violations, nothing more.”
Northern Municipality director-general and National Building Rules and Grievances Committee chairman Yousif Al Ghatam said councillors should instead be discussing exact locations for sheesha cafes. “Forget about the ban or whether it is haram,” he said. “It is part of our culture – think about locations where it could be practised.
“Locations could change in future if there is residential development.
“The Industry, Commerce and Tourism Ministry and the Health Ministry still come to our ministry asking for permission on locations, which means we still have the power.
“Accordingly, councillors can use that loophole to introduce regulations.
“Even with the scrapping of the old rule, there are still hundreds of cafés in violation and it should be up to the council to ask for them to be closed or remain.”
In fact, he blamed councillors for allowing illegal activity to continue at sheesha cafes in their constituencies.
“It is because councillors are not calling for proper monitoring that we have sheesha delivery by free visa workers,” he said. “Sheesha is being served to people in cars practising immoral acts. That should be the focus, not a ban.”